Germany-Israel relations: Treading a fine line

Germany-Israel relations: Treading a fine line
Comment: The German government's Middle East policy seems to walk a fine line between its trade and political interests and human rights concerns, argues Sibylle Bandler.
4 min read
14 May, 2015
Israel and Germany have very strong relations [Anadolu]
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's visit to Germany this week marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and serves as a reminder that it is possible for two traumatised peoples to heal their violent past.

The German government wants to see Israel participate in another miraculous reconciliation, one that will bring about Middle East peace. Yet, its weapons exports send another message.

Rivlin's visit started three days after the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Israel-Germany relations have come a remarkable way, considering they rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. However, the future of the two countries' ties depends at least in part on Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.

Germany, like many other European countries, firmly supports a solution of "two states for two people", envisaging an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

German President Joachim Gauck, in his welcome speech to Rivlin on Tuesday, did not mince words on the issue:

"When it comes to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we continue to believe that a lasting peace can only be possible through a two-state solution," he said. "We hope both sides will come closer and recognise the rights of the other. We regret the suspension of talks with the Palestinians."

Rivlin, an outspoken opponent of a two-state solution, conceded that, despite Israel's desire to further deepen political, economic and cultural ties with Germany, differences in opinions remained.
     Germany is obligated to defend Israel because six million Jews lost their lives under the Nazi regime.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a strong supporter of Israel, who told the Knesset in 2008 "the security of Israel is part of Germany's reason of state", is attempting what can only be described as an almost impossible balancing act.

Despite supporting an independent Palestinian state, she also defends the exports of German weapons to Israel.

Prior to her meeting with Rivlin on Tuesday, Merkel visited a school in Berlin, where she was asked by one of the students why Germany continues to sell weapons to Israel.

The chancellor replied with no hesitation: Germany is obligated to defend Israel, because six million Jews lost their lives under the Nazi regime.

Arms deals

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, on a visit to Jerusalem on Tuesday, was busy putting that policy into action. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, she said that developing Israel's capacity to defend itself was "a priority for Berlin".

The minister told reporters that Germany had its "most intensive security-related discussions with Israel to date", covering some 70 projects related to training soldiers and gaining experience in warfare.

Israel recently signed a deal for four warships, anti-aircraft patriot missiles and submarines with Berlin.

Germany had, "in words and deeds" proved its duty towards Israel's security, von der Leyen said. "With this strong basis of trust and friendship that we have achieved, we can discuss difficult subjects with one another," she said.

Those "difficult subjects" clearly include the two country's conflicting stance on a Palestinian state, as well as the outline agreement between the P5+1 western powers and Iran on its nuclear weapons programme.

A formal deal is to be signed on 1 July, but Merkel told Rivlin on Tuesday that, while reaching an agreement would prevent further development of Iran's nuclear capability, the current reality did not show any promise of a formal agreement.

Important links

Meanwhile, Germany remains Israel's largest trading partner in Europe and its second-most important global trading partner after the US. Israel is Germany's fourth-largest trading partner in the North Africa/Middle East region.

While Rivlin maintains that the two countries' close ties are not about reparations, as of 2007 Germany has paid 25 billion euros to the Israeli state, as well as payments to individual Holocaust survivors.

Once again the German government's Middle East policy seeks to walk a fine line between its trade and political interests and its expressed concerns over human rights violations in the region.

Its stated fears over human rights abuses will, however, ring hollow to anyone at the receiving end of German weapons in the hands of Israeli troops.

Sibylle Bandler is a German journalist and researcher.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.